Officials in Shanghai are urging eligible couples to have two children amid concerns over an ageing population, the first time in decades that Chinese authorities are encouraging couples to conceive.
Family planning officers and volunteers will make home visits and slip leaflets under doorways to encourage couples to have a second child if both of them grew up as only children. Emotional and financial counselling will also be provided.
More children would help relieve the problems caused by the growing number of elderly people in the city, said Zhang Meixin, a spokesman for the Shanghai population and family planning commission, adding that the basic population policy had not changed.
"Shanghai's over-60 population already exceeds 3 million, or 21.6% of registered residents," he told Reuters. "That is already near the average figure of developed countries and is still rising quickly."
Most newly married couples registered in Shanghai are both only children and so may have two children, Zhang said.
Despite China's "one-child" policy, parents in urban areas are allowed to have two offspring if they are both only children. Rural couples are allowed a second child if their first is a girl.
The number of couples in Shanghai – China's most populous city – eligible to have two children rose from 4,600 in 2005 to 7,300 in 2008.
"The current average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime is lower than one," Zhang said. "If all couples have children according to the policy, it would definitely help relieve pressure in the long term."
A recent survey released by the Shanghai population commission showed that more than half of the 4,800 respondents aged between 20 and 30 said they would like a second child if the one-child policy was eased.
China started a family planning programme in the 1970s and began implementing the one-child-per-couple policy in 1979, aimed at curbing growth in the world's most populous nation. But success in curbing population growth has created its own headaches. The country will have just 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, compared with 7.7 in 1975. A report by the US department of health and human services last month said the success of birth control measures means the growth of China's labour force may soon cease. In less than 10 years the size of the labour force is likely to start declining so that one of China's economic advantages may disappear.
China's greying population has also given rise to concerns about whether family members will be available for older people's care. Without siblings to share the responsibility, young couples born since the one-child policy are often shouldering the task of taking care of four older parents.
The children of today, if the current one-child policy continues to the time of their marriage in 20 years, could face the task of taking care of four parents and as many as eight grandparents. China's one-child policy has helped reduce the country's population by over 300 million and delayed the arrival of the 1.3-billion population mark by four years, officials said.